Who am I?

I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

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Paul Tevis

Entries in things i am doing (115)


RinCon Is On

This coming weekend is RinCon in Tucson, AZ, where I will once again be a guest. I say "once again" because I had the distinct pleasure of being a guest there last year, and I had a great time. The show was a revelation for me; I had known it was happening, but I had no idea how well-run it was or how fantastically things would go.1

So I'm back again, and this year I'm also presenting at the Southern Arizona Gamemaster's Conference on Sunday morning, alongside John Wick and Ryan Macklin. Hearing what these guys think always plants ideas in my mind, and I'm hoping my talk on "What Improv Has Taught Me About GMing" will be as inspiring to others.

After the conference, I'll be running a GMing clinic. This is a hands-on, facilitated discussion about real issues that GMs face. The content will be entirely determined by what people bring with them, so it's certain to be interesting.

As far as gaming goes, I'm particularly looking forward to the Houses of the Blooded LARP on Saturday evening. I've played in several of these games before, though I missed last year's, and I'm excited to see what John, Ro, Jessica, and company have up their sleeves.2 If you've ever wanted to see me in a purple velvet doublet, this is your chance.

The weirdest event on my schedule isn't actually on the schedule at all. Ryan and I were thinking about doing a panel on pacing in GMless games to help us flesh out something we're writing. Because of time constraints, we ended up not doing that panel. We still want to talk about it, and we're interested in having other people take part. It will happen sometime Friday evening, and there will be beer involved, so if you're interested in being there, follow one or both of us on Twitter to pick up the details.

That's what I know I'm doing at RinCon. I know there's a ton of other exciting things happening. What are you doing?

1 To see what people enjoyed there last year, check out One Cool Thing From RinCon 2009, which I shot and Ryan Macklin edited.

2 I've got a few things up my own.


Reading And One-Point Projects

I read a lot of books, many of them for work.1 I’ve got a pretty substantial backlog of things I want to read, so it’s important for me to know how long it’s going to take me to get through the top of my priority list. Fortunately, I’ve got pretty good data on this. It’s also a great example of how I’ve started to manage project-based work.

I’ve written before about the need to limit work to capacity. In order to do that you have to measure how much you can get done in a given period of time.2 What I had been doing was measuring how many hours per week I had available for project work. I’m doing something similar, but with a slight tweak that makes a big difference for me.

Reading a book is a great example of a project. It’s a temporary endeavor undertaken to produce a unique result. In the case of my professional development reading, the result is a set of notes on the book and an action item or two. I’ve gotten pretty good at skimming books to determine if I want to read them, what I want to get out of them, and how long it will take me to read them.3 I used to estimate them in hours (and I sort of still do) but now do something additional.

I started by asking myself, how big does something have to get before it’s a project? I don’t really care about tracking things that are below a certain size; those are generally Operations tasks. Is reading a single trade paperback of Hellboy a project? No. It only takes me about half an hour, and that doesn’t feel project-like. Is reading The Civil War: A Narrative; a project? Absolutely. What about one of the Dresden Files novels? Yeah, that’s on the smaller end4 but it definitely seems like a project. I eventually decided that the smallest thing that felt like a project was a book that took me about two hours to read and take notes on.4

The more I thought about it, I realized that generalizes nicely to other types of work, too. If something is going to take me two or more hours to do, I’m either going to have to set aside a dedicated block of time, or, more likely, I’m going to have to split it over multiple days.

So with my minimum project size determined, I was ready to continue. I decided that a book that took me two to three hours to read was worth one point. What are these points for? I’ll explain tomorrow.

1 Technically, I read about work on my own time, so I suppose I should call this “professional development.”

2 Or how long it takes to things done when you limit work in progress. Welcome to Scrum vs. Kanban.

3 This skill a recent acquisition for me, thanks to 10 Days To Faster Reading;.

4 They each took me about 4-5 hours.

5 In this case, Rework;.


Back Again (But Not Here)

Back at the beginning of July, I announced my return to blogging. As you can see, events conspired against that. I think the chief reason it didn’t work was that my routine almost returned to normal1, but my project list didn’t shrink as much as I expected it to2. There was the illusion I would be able to get more writing done, but subtle forces worked against that reality. I spent the last several weeks finishing off some of those linger projects, so now I’m finally back to where I need to be to start writing again.

August, however, is full of travel for me. On Wednesday, I fly to Indianapolis for GenCon. I have to leave GenCon a little early3 to fly to Orlando for the Agile 2010 conference. And today I bought plane tickets from Orlando to Switzerland, to spend a week and half in our office in Lausanne followed by five days of vacation with Gwen. I get back on August 31. My normal routine is non-existent this month.

All of which means I have a much better chance of getting some writing done.

That may seem counter-intuitive, but I think it will actually work. I’m going to be away from home for twenty-eight days straight. The normal forces that work on me at home will be completely gone. That means that I, rather than the pattern of commitments I’ve built up, will be in complete control of my schedule. If I say I writing is at the top of my to-do list, it will be.

So, for the rest of August, I will spend at least thirty minutes a day writing for this blog, and I will post something everyday. When I return home, the habit of daily writing should be strong enough to carry over into my day-to-day. Or at least that’s the plan. So if you see me in any of those places in the next few weeks, ask me how it’s going. Hopefully, you’ll already know.



1 With the notable exception of spending three hours a day watching the Tour de France.

2Especially when you include three hours a day of watching the Tour de France.

3 Sunday afternoon, rather than my usual Monday afternoon schedule.


Buchanan Saw The Civil War's Beginnings

I've had a strange love affair with history. It's not really an affair, I suppose. For me, history is more like that girl from high school you run into every few years and wonder why you never hooked up with but it doesn't much matter now does it so instead you just have a pleasant lunch. History is a topic that I enjoy whenever I spend some time with it, but I've never gotten into it with any detail.

Much like friends whom I haven't seen in a while, my interest in historical periods is usually piqued by running into multiple references in a short period of time. Recently, that's been the American Civil War. Between playing For The People with Ken in Chicago, catching a Civil War documentary on the Discovery Channel the other night, and a conversation about my great-great-grandfather's military service, I realized it's time to do some reading.

Fortunately, I have a copy of Shelby Foote's The Civil War: A Narrative sitting on my shelf (as a result of an Amazon.com sale a few years ago). In college, my roommate Andy read it and commented on how good it was, so I'd always intended to read it. Yesterday I started to make good on my intention, reading the first few pages to get a sense of the style. I was immediately hooked. Foote's background was as a novelist and journalist, rather than as a historian, and he plays to his strengths. The 3000-page history starts with Jefferson Davis' resigning from the Senate after receiving word that Mississippi has seceeded. I knew basically nothing about Davis when I opened the book. Without boring me with facts and dates, Foote created a character whose context was accessible to me, and seventeen pages later I wanted to know more. It's going to be a long haul, but I'm pretty sure I made a good choice.


I've Got The Brain On The Brain

I just bought my ticket to hear Oliver Sacks speak at UCSB.

Dr. Sacks is a neurologist and a frequent guest on my favorite radio show and podcast, Radiolab, where he talks about strange things our brains do. This is a topic that fascinates and terrifies me. I have a lot of unresolved questions about the nature of the mind and its relationship to the brain. (I was a Philosophy major in college, which only exacerbated the problem.) I love movies that raise issues of consciousness, memory, and personal identity like Memento and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Heck, I've even written a storytelling game about these ideas.

Dr. Sacks has written several excellent books about his experiences with patients suffering from neurological disorders that might best be described as "philosophically challenging," so I'm excited to hear him speak.  The second chapter of A Penny For My Thoughts starts with this quote from his classic work The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, and think it sums up what I find interesting about his work:

The patient’s essential being is very relevant in the higher reaches of neurology, and in psychology; for here the patient’s personhood is essentially involved, and the study of disease and of identity cannot be disjoined.
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